Kokomo — The Howard County Veteran Services Office received a boost in personnel funding Tuesday from the county council to help keep up with a record number of active claims for veterans’ benefits.
Council approved an increase from $3,500 to $12,000 to allow a part-time employee to work four days a week all year instead of only a couple days from April to November.
It was one of the smaller amounts council doled out Tuesday, but it drew the biggest response from the crowd, many of whom were veterans who packed the meeting to support the budget increase.
The group clapped and cheered after council unanimously approved the appropriation.
“I’m grateful that the council gave me the part-time position,” said Veterans Service officer Bob Ladd. “It means a lot to me.”
Ladd said there are currently around 3,000 active claims at the office – the highest amount he’s ever seen.
Last year, he said 1,830 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan returned to Howard County, some of whom have already filed claims.
The main reason for the increase in benefit applications, however, is recent legislation that covers more injuries and conditions for Vietnam vets, Ladd said.
Another reason is the decade-long war in Iraq.
“It’s been 10 years now, and a lot of the injuries and exposure to battle environments are kicking in,” Ladd said.
Oddly, the uptick in benefit applications comes as the number of out-of-county claims has decreased in the last couple years.
In 2009, county veterans received $16.2 million in benefits through the office and out-of-county veterans received $22 million in benefits.
Ladd said that number has decreased due to the ability to submit claims online, but noted a number of veterans from surrounding counties still use the Howard County office to file.
With the record number of active claims making their way through veteran services, Ladd said the part-time employee will free up other personnel to work on benefit applications.
“This will allow those people to do the job they were hired to do,” he said. “This should relieve the stress a little bit.”
• Carson Gerber, Tribune reporter, may be reached by calling 765-854-6739 or via email at email@example.com.